Deborah came from the south

In Laurens, South Carolina
there’s a maple tree I planted in 1976,
right by the well on the edge of what was a cotton field
behind my grandparents’ home
between the old garage and their garden.

Now their back porch was never under that tree,
but you could see it from the chairs in which we sat
talking (or listening to the grown-ups talk)—
shelling peas, snapping beans, husking corn.

And so, having recently considered Judges 4,
I imagine Deborah judging the people of Israel
sitting in the shade of what was known as the palm of Deborah
in the hills of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel.

She sat there settling the disputes brought before her,
instructing people in the way of God.
And I picture her—nothing in the text about this—just what I imag(in)e—
I picture her, in the summer months,
sitting in the shade of her palm
shelling peas, snapping beans, husking corn—
I picture her, in the fall, sitting there knitting,
and I imagine her asking those who came before her,
asking them,

“Is what you bring me more important than feeding our people?
Is it more important than keeping them warm?
Sit here with me and let us reason together.
Shuck this corn while you’re sitting.
Spool this yarn.
Make yourself useful
while we make things better.”

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